The oldest park in Sofia existing from the Ottoman times is nowadays surrounded by emblematic buildings – The National Theatre, Ministry of Defence, The Royal Palace, The Bulgarian National Bank, the newly built Grand Hotel Sofia and the impressive Gendovich House which used to be the tallest building in Sofia in the early 20th century.
The building of the Royal Palace is situated close to the grand Socialist edifices of the former Communist Party Headquarters, the President's Office and the Council of Ministers. Nowadays it houses the National Fine Arts Gallery. Before being converted into a palace by Austrian architects and officially inaugurated on 26th December 1882 the building used to be a Turkish administrative building (konak). The famous yellow stones paving the square before the palace were thought to come from King's Ferdinand's second wife Princess Eleonora's dowry.
The park in front of the Officer's Club was created in 1927 to replace a big hole full of water where at times water buffaloes used to submerge. Situated in the park is the monument of Stefan Stambolov, the Bulgarian Prime Minister who transformed Bulgaria into a modern European state. Stambolov was stabbed to death by his political opponents in 1895 close to where the park is now situated. More than 100 years later another political turbulence – the first rally against the Communist dictator Todor Zhivkov – shook the park.
The garden was established in 1892 by the first professor in botanics in Bulgaria Stefan Georgiev. At the inauguration ceremony King Ferdinand planted an oak tree and buried a gold coin in the soil. The garden displays the sacred Chinese ginco tree whose leaves become yellow in the fall, along with a metasequoia tree brought from Se Chuan in 1947. Today the garden has more than 1500 plants, a tropical section, English rose garden, and a butterfly pavilion.
The Monument erected in 1883-1884 to commemorate the medical ranks who lost their lives in the Russian-Turkish War gave the surrounding garden designed by the court gardener Daniel Neff its name. This was the first botanical garden to be established in Sofia landscaped geometrically. A lapidarium exhibiting archaeological monuments from the Serdica period such as fragments from the Zeus-Serapis temple from the 2nd century was created in the North-Eastern end of the park. In the summer this very popular park in Sofia also becomes a musical stage hosting classical music and jazz festivals.
The Park of the Military Academy which was designed in 1906 by the Austrian architect Friedrich Grunager, the same who designed the Synagogue, the Turkish Ambassador's Residence, etc, is rich in a variety of tree species – pine trees such as picea, pinus sylvestris, and pinus nigra, platanus tress, and sycamore trees. One of the interesting features of the park is the fence made in 1935 of 1895 gun barrels from the rifles used by the Bulgarian troops during the wars at the beginning the 20th century. The park is open for visitors and offers open-air theatre and opera performances.
The so called Pipiniera – a tree nursery - was a special favourite of the Sofia municipal authorities in 1882. The idea to establish a “nursery garden” however was not well-accepted by the local villagers who opposed the effort and let their goats graze among the knipboom trees freshly planted by the municipal gardener Daniel Neff. This led to the so called “sheep war” which resulted in two fatalities, but at the end the authorities prevailed. The park evolved and went through a number of landscaping changes – initially acacias were planted, then sycamore trees, ash-wood trees and finally chestnut trees. King Boris's Park is a favourite spot for the citizens of Sofia, especially the Ariana Pond which is converted into a skating rink in the winter.
The place which later became the South Park used to be covered in dust and bricks from an old brick factory before in 1972 architect Magda Karlova designed the park. The factory pits were converted into green ravines and ponds, and the fine English loan offers a great view of the Vitosha Mountain. The visitors of the park can see rare bird species such as the driocopus martius (woodpecker) and the robin. A trademark of the park are the mallard ducks that the visitors can feed.
The Vitosha Mountain Range is an inseparable part of the Sofia landscape which is the reason why it is depicted on the Sofia coat of arms. The first national park in the Balkans – Vitosha - was established in 1934 covering two biosphere reserves representing half of the Bulgarian flora. Deer, reindeer, bores and bears roam the forests and the Southern slopes of the mountain. One of the unique natural sights are the so called stone rivers. The highest mountain peak is Cherni Vrah (The Black Peak) – 2290 m. Only 30 minutes away from the city the mountain offers perfect conditions for hiking, skiing, climbing, mountain biking and horse riding.